March Madness Redux
On Sunday, March 15, many folks were glued to the television for the NCAA basketball championship bracket selection show. At the same time, five people, two Malamute huskies, two NRS E-150 rafts, a MaverIK I inflatable kayak and four days worth of gear were crammed in and onto a 15-passenger van, headed to Idaho’s Salmon River.
I use “redux” in the title, because last year about this same time, four of these folks, along with a couple of other crazies headed up into the Snake River canyon. It was chronicled in a story I titled Cold Days in Hells.
Brian previously worked at NRS, as the Wholesale Rep for the Mountain West. He’s now gone back to graduate school. Paco works in Customer Service and if you wander into our Moscow retail outlet, you’ll see the results of his great gear displays. Tyler took over Brian’s Wholesale territory.
We drove through snow-covered fields on the Camas Prairie to the Pine Bar put-in on the Lower Salmon. We got there mid-afternoon and dove into getting boats inflated and gear sorted out, so Jenni, Jack and Koda could get on the road. We all donned drysuits and probably pushed off around 5:00, but I can’t be sure since none of us had a watch.
Ahead, a black weather wall approached and the wind turned into our face. We struggled against it as rain began to fall. We found a decent beach just as it was getting dark. It was a rodeo putting up the River Wing in the powerful wind; but Paco’s an outdoor engineer, so he helped angle it right. We pitched it low and it held.
Eventually the rain slacked and we broke out of shelter to put up our tents. Then we could gather around the Firepan, to relax and laugh. But we kept on the drysuits.
It rained throughout the night and dawn brought low hanging clouds, frozen puddles and a visible snow line. We gathered under the Wing, drank coffee and Baileys, heated up Ty’s breakfast burritos and waited to see if the rain would stop. And waited and waited. We’d about decided that we’d have to lay over if we didn’t want to pack in the rain, when we got a break.
And speaking of color. A total mind blowing color you only see in that river corridor when it’s cold and wet is in the “moss” on the rocks in a relatively narrow band above the water. I’ll call it moss, I’m not sure of the taxonomy, but anyway it is a vibrant florescent green; a green that you’d swear was artificial. In the summer, the color mutes to a much darker, less obvious tone.
We cruised on through the afternoon. Not much sun and occasional showers. Brian and I traded off rowing. He did an excellent job of running us through China Rapid and we put on 14 miles to get to Upper Maloney Camp, still with plenty of daylight. Wing up and Paco caught a bait fish, so the guys put out a sturgeon bait. Brian had a strike from a steelhead trout, but lost it. As Tyler was changing into camp clothes, he turned to me in all seeming seriousness and said, “Clyde, I have to be honest with you.” Startled, I said, “Yeah?” He said, “You know, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if it didn’t rain on us any more this trip.” Yep, an honest man.
It was my turn for dinner. I served up some tortilla soup, home barbequed pulled pork sandwiches with Spicy Memphis Coleslaw, and brownies for dessert. Then, as night came we settled down for a relaxing evening.
Ah, but Tyler heard something and stepped outside the Wing. “The rod is clicking!” And a mad dash for the river ensued. Ty set the hook and the race was on. From the tug on the line it was obvious that it was a big fish. Then it got into the current and the combination of the sturgeon’s power and the water’s force was huge. Tyler grudgingly gave ground until we got to the raging Maloney Creek. Brian waded out part way and Tyler passed the rod off to him. I raced back to camp to put my river shoes back on and Paco grabbed his camera.
The battle continued along the bank with Tyler back on the rod. Paco too took a turn. I was the only one without a fishing license, so I shot some photos with Paco’s camera. The fish tired before the fishermen did, so they all finally met at the shore. Sturgeon are such prehistoric looking creatures. This one was a beauty, at least six feet long.
St. Patrick’s Day dawned with a tease of sun, quickly replaced with clouds. The day on the water was hard slogging, with a lot of upstream winds and slow, flat water. Brian and I traded off rowing. Poor Tyler and Paco slaved away solo. Again, we pulled into camp with daylight left. The BLM map calls it Skeleton Creek Camp, but some of my old boating buddies named it “Shade Beach.” There’s a large grove of black locust trees on a high bench that provides much needed shade in the summer. No leaves this time of year, but the tree trunks made great anchors for Wing tiedowns.
Even after the night’s runaway, we were still up pretty early, or at least Brian was. He’d made up a Dutch oven breakfast casserole before things got too crazy. French bread layer in the bottom, then alternating layers of precooked breakfast sausage, ham chunks, black olives, artichoke hearts and cheese. Then eggs scrambled with milk poured over and a final sprinkle of cheese. It cooked up to this moist succulent goodness with lots of different flavors and textures. Just the thing for a hangover.
For Paco, Brian and me, it was a good day of enjoying Blue Canyon, some sun, some wind, some rapids. Lunch near the mouth of the Salmon, then seven miles down the Snake to Lower Cottonwood Camp. Beautiful evening, but the Wing still went up. Paco’s dinner was delightful. He built a good fire in the Firepan with driftwood and burned it down to a nice bed of coals.
Toasted split bagels and made bruschetta with guacamole, roasted red pepper, sliced tomato and pepper jack cheese. Heated up some African Ground Nut Soup, made by his lady, Erin. Proceeded to cook a herking beef sirloin roast over the coals. Cooked to perfection, sliced across the grain and served with sourdough bread heated on the coals and a tomato/lemon salad… Mmmm, good.
No drama on the row out on Thursday. Very few jetboats and we didn’t see any other rafts the whole trip. Hmm, wonder why? Great trip. We all decided that now we have a March Madness tradition that needs to be kept up. Look out 2010!
The Sub Title – A Magnificent Obsession
The answers I came up with, though partial, were:
I’ve sat in more river camps than I can count and watched the river roll by. It’s always a mystical feeling to think that it just keeps on flowing by, always, always. Life is like a river trip. You push out into the stream and the flow transports you where it’s going to take you. Sometimes it turns out like you planned and sometimes it surprises you with Plan B. If you cling to the shore, or never push off, you don’t get to experience life, or the river’s gifts.
As always, I enjoy hearing from our readers. What draws you back to the water? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boat Often, Boat Safe and may the River Gods take a likin’ to Ya,